Community Feature

Lambda Uptown Alano Club: Working on Creating a space for LGBTQ+ individuals in Recovery

By Cesar A Reyes

The newly formed Lambda Uptown Alano Club has a big mission, to raise funds and create a self-owned building that will serve as a club house where meetings and social events can be available for the LGBTQ+ recovery community. With the loss of the Live and Let Live Alano Club due to rent increases, the need for a central meeting place for recovery meetings, not just for substance use has increased. Members have had to find other meetings around town but hope to have a regular LGBTQ+ space where people can feel free and safe to talk openly about their addictions and recovery journey. Enter Julia Nava and her life partner, Heather Paetow, MSW, the co-founders of the new Lambda Uptown Alano Club. They hope to find support from organizations and businesses to raise the funds needed for the club to purchase a building so they can once again offer a recovery center geared towards LGBTQ+ folks. They are launching their fundraising campaign with a Gala on May 2nd, and they hope the community will come show their support. We sat down with the two passionate founders to find out more about their mission.

Please tell us about yourself.

Julia Nava: “I am a Two Spirit Senior Lesbian and retired Alcohol and Drug Counselor and numerous other careers too long to list them all with 22+ years Sobriety; my AA Birthday is Aug 23, 2001.” Family of Julia has been heavily affected by drug and alcohol problems culminating in numerous tragedies. Julia didn’t start drinking until her later 20’s and by her 30’s began drinking heavily. Although she experimented with various illicit substances like many others in the 1970’s and 80’s, alcohol was always her drug of choice. After two back-to-back DUIs, she went to rehab in OC with a nudge from a Judge and has maintained her sobriety ever since by retaining a sponsor, working the 12-Steps, reading AA literature, and attending up to three AA meetings per week on most weeks. Over the years, when dealing with particularly stressful times she has even gone to 90 meetings in 90 days (this is also suggested when someone first gets sober). In addition to having a sponsor, Julia also sponsors between up to four female sponsees at a time.

Heather/Heath Paetow, MSW: “I am a lesbian with master’s in social work, primarily focused on Military and Veterans. I served for four years in the Army, then became a Commissioned Officer for 16+ years in the Coast Guard Reserves. My Pop’s (Bio-Dad) was a Vietnam Veteran who got heavily into drugs after the war but found sobriety in 1988. He passed a year ago, just shy of 35 years clean and sober. Initially, trying to gain an understanding of his path to recovery, I joined Al-Anon in 1999 which is for friends and family members of people in AA. Later it turned out I was almost always dating women who met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria for an addiction diagnosis, so over the years I’ve continued to be a member of Al-Anon.”

Tell us about the Lambda Uptown Alano Club:

The full name of the Organization is 12-Stepper’s Lambda Uptown Alano Club. Julia and I co-founded 12-Stepper’s Inc. as a non-profit with its primary goal being long-term Sexual & Gender Minority (SGM) Senior Women and Senior Women Veteran’s Sober Living; its secondary goal being 12-Step recovery education. As we began conducting our search for a suitable and affordable property, Covid-19 pandemic began spreading and seniors were reported to be the most vulnerable. Needless to say, we put a moratorium on the search as in the early days of the outbreaks, no one knew how to stop it and keep people safe. Around the same time as we were beginning to feel things were becoming safe enough to consider pursuing the long-term SGM Senior Women and Senior Women Veterans Sober Living again we learned that the old LGBT Live and Let Live Alano Club had closed and was filing bankruptcy. Julia and I were shocked at the loss of a 12-Step Club house for LGBT/SGM. This meant the closure of many of the 50-60 12-Step mtgs they held per week and the scattering of the rest. Some were forced to meet in locations off of alleys, which was truly appalling since that was often the behavior of someone still in their addiction rather than someone maintaining sobriety. Despite how far the SGM Community has come in terms of Legal Rights and acceptance, many rights are now being overturned and Violence is ever increasing. Getting and staying sober requires rigorous honesty as lying and deception are closely associated with active addiction, however many SGM persons are justifiably terrified to say who they really are in Straight Mtgs. Therefore, it is critical to have an SGM Alano Clubhouse for the hosting of all types of 12-Step meetings. 

We soon found there were others who felt the same and we joined forces with a couple of gay men John and Kris and the four of us word-smithed the name Lambda Uptown Alano Club. Lambda for The Unity of our Community and Uptown refers to the broader area in which we will ultimately establish our 12-Step Recovery Clubhouse within the freeway boundaries South of the I-8, West of the I-805, East of the I-5 and Balboa Park as the Southern border. We contacted the Attorney who helped Julia & I create and register our 501(c)3 Non-Profit Organization 12-Steppers, Inc. and inquired if in addition to our Sober Housing Goal, we could also create an Alano Club under the Education component of our 501(c)3. She researched this and confirmed that we could do this. We have since filed 2 DBA’s to legally attach the name Lambda Uptown Alano Club to 12-Steppers’s Inc as well as the Nickname/Acronym LUAclub12 (also referenced in our email address: LUA and our webpage:

Unfortunately, due to serious health issues, John and Kris had to resign their positions, but we have continued to grow and now have approximately 20+ persons working toward our common goal of ownership of our 12-Step Recovery Clubhouse. 

What is the Organizations Goal?

The biggest difference between the old LLL Alano Club and the new Lambda Uptown Alano Club is Ownership. Renting is untenable for a small Non-Profit in a Large Expensive City. Whether a property is Donated, or we Fundraise every cent to Purchase a property with or without a building(s) on it. There are plenty of persons in recovery with construction experience, there are Architects, Plumbers, Electricians. People from all walks of life who will help us succeed! 

Above and beyond establishing the ClubHouse, the property that we acquire for the Lambda Uptown Alano Club should also have room to create the long-term SGM Senior Women and Senior Women Veterans Sober Living as having both is so crucial to our SGM Community and the ultimate goal.

Tell us about the Mayla Gayla Gala event coming up on May 2nd.

This is our Inaugural Gala Fundraiser, and we will put it on every year; initially to get the property and get the doors open and later to keep the building(s) freshly maintained. The Master of Ceremonies for the night is The Bowtie Ninja from American Ninja Warriors. But we now have a local Celebrity attending too! Mayor Todd Gloria just confirmed via a written RSVP from his office. He will arrive at 6:30pm and speak on the importance of this Club house and long-term SGM Senior Women and Senior Women Veterans Sober Living to our Community. In the Main Hall small bites will be served and there will be Imperial Court Drag performances and other community Drag performers from Team Snowflake. Have you ever wanted to do an Impromptu Drag performance; you just might get to scratch that off your Bucket list! The Final Act will be a Live Pat Benatar Cover Band. Be sure to purchase a VIP ticket because in addition to all the entertainment in the main hall, there will be 2 VIP Rooms with Special Guest Blues, Jazz and Standards Singer Celeste Barbier performing only for the VIPS. The 1 VIP Room will serve Mocktails and the other Room will serve Cocktails. Only VIPs receive drink coupons and 5 Raffle Tickets. You do not have to be in recovery to come to the Gala or even join the Steering Committee, you just need to believe in the mission and vision!

How can people get involved?

This is definitely a Grassroots Movement, so it’s imperative to spread the word and obviously social media these days can get our msg out to other 12-Step Recovery Members and other Alano Clubs around the country and beyond. Check in see if your company will donate to the cause or even match donations. There are loads of special perks for companies who are willing to sponsor Lambda. Same goes for your bank, local grocer and even mechanic. You never know until you ask. We need fantastic items donated for the Gala’s Live and Silent Auctions, and we can even come pick them up if need be. The Steering Committee generally meets on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday every month at 1:30pm and will continue to do so until there is a fully owned Lambda Uptown Alano Club, but now thru May 2nd (the day of the Mayla Gayla Gala), we are meeting every Tuesday at 1:30pm in North Park. If you have the time and perseverance, please call 619-714-0095 so you can join us and make this dream a reality. Do you love Insta?? We just created an account, but need someone who can take over / create content to get the message out. We definitely need Grant Writers and people successful with crowdfunding/sourcing. The sooner we can raise the money the sooner we open the doors. In the meantime, Julia Secretary’s an AA Mtg on Mondays at the LGBT Center at 1:30pm and I am starting a SGM Al-Anon Meeting on Wednesdays at 4:30pm in Conference Room 4200 Texas St. San Diego 92104 (North Park). Every Tuesday if you pull up the Denny’s Flyer on our Webpage and present it to the Cashier when ringing up your meal at the Denny’s on El Cajon Blvd in North Park, they will donate 25% of your bill to LUA Club12. Host your own FUNdraiser like a skate night and donate the proceeds. This will take our entire village!